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Carbon emissions take a dive

Cockatoos on electricity line

For the first time in the history of Australia’s electricity network, coal-fired generators are switching off, writes Tony Mohr.

Since the carbon price became law, over 3,000 MW of coal-fired power in five states has been switched off. To give some sense of scale, in the three months after the carbon price came into effect, emissions were 5.7 million tonnes lower than the same time the year before.

That’s equivalent to taking 5.1 million cars off the road. 

Coal-fired generators have stopped producing and selling electricity because it’s not profitable. One of the main reasons polluting power is now less profitable comes down to some fundamental changes in our electricity supply, due to climate change policies.

 Three months after the carbon price came into effect emissions were 5.7 million tonnes lower than the same time the year before – the equivalent to taking 5.1 million cars off the road

The biggest reason polluting power is not as profitable is that we just don’t need as much. That’s partly because Australian families and businesses are smarter about how they are using energy than ever before. It’s also because the mandatory renewable energy target is forcing energy retailers to buy clean energy.

Additionally, in the last couple of years, nearly a million Australians have invested in solar panels, further reducing the need for coal-fired power.

The carbon price has made the generation of coal-fired power more expensive and less profitable, creating a fundamental shift away from coal-fired power. Concern over the impact on employment spurred ACF to carry out a detailed study of climate policies and jobs with the Australian Council of Trade Unions. The report concluded that strong climate policies could create 770,000 more jobs by 2030 – primarily because building and running renewable energy generators requires more workers than the equivalent sized coal-fired generation.

The carbon price has made the generation of coal-fired power more expensive and less profitable, creating a fundamental shift away from coal-fired power

Yet despite the positive impacts of Australia's climate laws, the dirtiest of our fossil fuel generators will receive $5.5 billion dollars in cash and free permits. As a result of these subsidies, several of the coal power stations that have been switched off may be switched back on again. ACF has been calling on the government to review and wind back these handouts.

In a world currently experiencing a new industrial revolution in clean energy development, compensating polluting industries is a backward step. In 2011, a record $260 billion was invested in clean energy worldwide, and total clean energy investments outstripped global fossil fuel investment for the first time.

The mandatory 20% renewable energy target is currently under review. Many major energy retailers and companies are actively resisting Australia’s renewable energy target, arguing for it to be stripped back and reduced. ACF and other environmental organisations arguing that it’s time to build up and increase the target to 50% by 2030.

We launched The People's RET Review in collaboration with 100% Renewables to give Australians the opportunity to cast their vote on clean energy. Here are the, unsurprising, results.

Image courtesy of Cindy Andrie/Flickr